Mayor Danny Beaulieu of Fort Providence says he is mostly content with how his hamlet is contending with impacts of COVID-19, but would like to see some of the young people take the issue more seriously.

Fort Providence Mayor Danny Beaulieu says both food stores in the community, including the Northern Store is being well stocked every week, although there are some limits to the number of essential items that people can purchase.
NNSL file photo

As far as the town goes, people are following (GNWT health guidelines) along pretty good,” Beaulieu said. “We do have some students coming back from university in the south. We know who they are and we will call them or text them and get them to register with the health department and we’re ensuring they’re staying home for 14 days.

“Overall there is not that much people travelling from here so it is not bad. 

“There are a few people that I still don’t think understand the seriousness of this coronavirus that is going around. There has to be a bit more education.

The hamlet of 695 people sits at a critical juncture on the Mackenzie River and on Highway 3.

The Northern Store and Aurora Market are taking measures to increase safety during the pandemic.

“We have two grocery stores and they limit how much food one person can buy; like if you go to the store and brought too much at the counter,” he said. “That happened to me when I was buying hand sanitizers. They grabbed two and said to go back because you don’t need it.” 

He noted that all clerks and managers at the Northern store wear masks and they are watching and keeping their distance from each other when shopping. 

He said they have also remained well stocked.

“Every week the truck comes in and both stores had semi-trucks unloading groceries (late last week) so the supply is good,” he said.

Fort Providence also has two restaurants, the Snowshoe Inn and the Big River Service Centre. Both have limited hours and have cut back on overall service in recent weeks.

Big River Service Centre has made several strict safety precautions in both the convenience store and restaurant including limiting hours of service, requiring patrons to wear glass and adding a plexiglass barrier.
photo screenshot from Facebook.com

Big River Service Centre cashier Linda Croft sits on hamlet council. She said the cash counter has also put in strict health and safety measures including a counter plexi-glass barrier, gloves worn by all employees, and non-stop bleaching of surfaces and the bathroom.

Even customers coming into the store are asked to put on gloves.

“I tell them that if you don’t, then everything you touch I have to bleach,” she said. “Most people are agreeable but there are a few wise guys that still think it is all a farce.”

Perhaps the biggest issue that concerns her is the notion of social distancing, she said.

“A mother was in here tonight with all of her kids and I said, you know, this is not social distancing,” she said. “You should leave your kids either at home or in the vehicle because the kids are at everything and touching everything and they are carriers. Or could be the carriers because nobody knows what is going on yet.”

The service centre is the main stop between Hay River and Yellowknife for truckers, but in recent weeks business has slowed down dramatically due to COVID-19 concerns, Croft said.

“It is very, very slow. Extremely slow,” she said. “We are down to doing about 30 per cent of what we would normally do at this time of year.”

The licensed dining lounge has been closed for two weeks, since the first public health warnings were issued, although takeout service has been available, she said.

“We have gone from 30 employees (at the Service Centre) to 10 and of those, four work regular at the restaurant on a call-in basis,” she said.

The Big River Service Centre closed its bar earlier in the month and the Snowshoe Inn, the hamlet’s only other licensed establishment has limited its sales of alcohol to off-sales only. The inn is limiting beer sales to six packs to discourage people from gathering for drinks in a party setting, both Beaulieu and Croft said.

“I guess they are trying to keep people from having groups of people partying,” he said. “If you only have six beers you aren’t going to call your friends because the beer will be gone in an hour.

Communicating safety measures 

Both Beaulieu and Croft say that it is important for the community to communicate types of safety measures in the hamlet newsletter and local radio in both Slavey and English so that elders are aware of the precautions that need to be taken.

Protecting elders is crucial, they say.

“To the people in Providence I would just say that when there are all kinds of posters and notices to keep hands clean and keep your distance – I know it is nice to sit down with grandma and listen to stories, especially in this time, but try to not to do that,” Beaulieu said. “Stay home for a little while.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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